To some, it seems to make sense that a Jesuit college would teach a course on atheism. More accurately, the offering is entitled, “Responding to 21st-Century Atheism.” Which is somewhat different in most (but not all) circles from actually teaching atheism as a discipline. It might be suggested that those who don’t perceive the difference might need some college-level learning themselves.
Atheism “has become militant, aggressive and proselytizing,” said (Rev Scott) Lewis, a Jesuit scripture scholar, who teaches the class with three other scholars. “It’s made great in-roads and is now socially acceptable. If you’re young and educated and believe in God, you’re (seen as) a jerk.”
Usually the combination of being young and educated, plus tenacious in belief or ideology is enough to get you labelled a jerk. My internet foils would say I don’t even have to be young. Or educated.
I find it interesting that some people would even find the idea of this course offensive. Is atheism a player in the arena of ideology? I would think so. Does it make sense to prepare oneself for the best arguments that can be hurled at Christ and Christianity? Could we at least dispense with the silly arguments? More from Fr Lewis:
One idea for atheists to leave behind is that people who believe are stupid or naive. And perhaps we should leave behind the idea that an atheist is someone who is not ethical or a good person.
A person can be a believer and be quite intelligent. A person can be an atheist and be quite a morally upright person.
“Responding to Atheism” strikes me as an apologetics theme. Apologetics is supposed to be on the rise, too. The commentariat at RNS is fairly active, for that site.
My sense is that believers should be prepared for many eventualities. Not all of our discussions will focus on the fractional disagreements within liturgy, biblical interpretation, or the color of the tablecloths in the social hall. Militant Christians should understand that most of all. Isn’t the concept of success in battle tied closely with the notion of knowing one’s enemy well?
Given that, is eight weeks of atheism enough?
Way back in the 1990s I taught a course that was offered in Religious Studies at Iowa State University: “Belief and Unbelief.” I had the students read a variety of texts, including John Hick’s anthology THE EXISTENCE OF GOD and Elie Wiesel’s NIGHT. Marx and Freud were also treated.
But I really wanted to challenge them to see what really is atheism (and not just the polemical variety) and so had them read Jon Sobrino’s COMPANIONS OF JESUS and Stanley Hauerwas’s NAMING THE SILENCES.
It was a lot of fun – and we had some interesting discussions.
But just having a class to respond to atheism seems a little too apologetical. What I think needs to be done is to analyze the roots of atheism in modernity (as Michael Buckley does as well as to use the insights of liberation theology to recognize the practical atheism of consumerism and unbridled capitalism (as one collection put it, THE IDOLS OF DEATH AND THE GOD OF LIFE).